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SXSW 2018 Interview: Rachel K Collier (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 11th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Part 1 of this interview feature with the fabulous Rachel K Collier is through here.

We chat a bit about her performance at Latitude 30, which I was lucky enough to witness. Collier emphasises that her live show is very much a work in progress. “Without four cameras on me [to film and for the audience to see what she’s doing], I need to be interacting with the crowd. So I’ve had to simplify some of my live set. Otherwise, I’m just standing there, pressing buttons. Where’s my connection with the crowd? If I’m constantly triggering, I have be behind Push all the time. I’m still working on it, I’m constantly refining my live show. I realised quite quickly that I’m a performer. I want to be out there with the crowd. I’ll do whatever I can to combine both things. I never want to hit Play on a track. That’s just boring. Someone once asked me, ‘why don’t you just press Play?’ I want to have the freedom to trigger the clips whenever I want to bring them in. I want to loop whatever I want to loop. I want to be able to do things on the fly. I get a bit of a buzz from it!”

The Welsh artist is also eager to lift the veil over what is all too often a black box for electronic music fans. “In the future, we’d like to get cameras on the Push, so people can really see what I’m doing. No one can see the lights on the Push and what I can see.” I point out that as a female producer, songwriter and performer, she’s an all too rare breed these days. The very existence of Rachel K Collier and the success she has garnered so far can only be a positive thing for the future of electronic music, I explain. Having someone like her out front, showing a woman can make it in the electronic genre and have fun doing it is a huge thing.

“I trigger a new scene at the end of a song to trigger the tempo of the new song. If you trigger a clip, you stay in the previous song’s tempo. When I go from ‘And I Breathe’ mid-set, I have a big pitch drop before I drop the tempo from 123 to 94 for ‘Poison’. If I talk over the clip, I lose where the 1 [count] is, but then I need to bring in the next clip in, and it could come in anywhere. Maybe I should have a marker somewhere so I know where I am, but really, that’s part of the fun. A year ago, I would have been like, oh gosh, everything has to be perfect. Now I’m like okay, you know what, I’m triggering the clips, sometimes it’s going to go wrong, and I can actually now laugh about it. It’s live! Sometimes it’s good when stuff goes wrong. Actually, something did go wrong Tuesday, in the intro for ‘And I Breathe’. The controllers were moving, and I hit the BPM knob by accident. Luckily, where I was in the project, new scene, boom!”

She starts to laugh. “I’ve gone all nerdy on this. Is that okay?” I assure her it’s perfectly fine. To be honest, her being so detailed and ‘getting in the weeds’, so to speak, on her live show is further proof just how complicated her process is and how she’s taking it in her stride. Collier is also very adamant about making sure her music has meaning. Referencing her Quickfire Questions answer about a song that makes her laugh, she conveys her appreciation for Everything Everything’s ‘No Reptiles’ and the way Jonathan Higgs writes his lyrics. “With a lot of their music, I’m like, did he really say that? I like stuff with loads of imagery, because I do that in my lyrics as well. I’m really happy with reviews of my music when people say, ‘yeah, it’s dance music, but it has meaning. It has words, it has real lyrics. That’s what I didn’t really like about writing generic top lines, in any old time signature. It didn’t mean anything. Yeah, it’s going to make people dance, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I want to be able to dance, but I also want to be able to sing something that means something. As an artist, I had to get my head round that I need to be saying something.”

She is quick to point out the potential contradiction she has in her own preference for music. “I love straight dance. I’m a raver. You could probably tell from my set!” Everyone says, ‘you have so much energy’. I’m really a passionate musician. And I made that music! This is so nerdy, but that actual groove of ‘Poison’ is a fast groove at 124, and I shoved it into MetaSynth. It’s this really nerdy granular synthesis program, it’s my secret weapon now. If I want something that’s a bit edgy, I chuck it in there, it’s like a playground. You can go in there and mess stuff up. I slowed this 124 down, I pitch shifted it down. I liked it and brought that sound back into Ableton, put my own kick and snare [drums] into it. I’m really fussy, there’s three kicks in there, I made one of the kicks in my Korg MiniLogue, sampled it, cut it up perfect. I like taking bits of the other tracks and resample it. See, this comes back to Ableton. You can’t do that in Logic or ProTools. That’s what I mean when I say it [Ableton] helps me express myself.”

There have been a few bumps this week in Austin, but nothing serious that could dampen her mood. “South By has been a bit of a learning curve. Some of the sound engineers are not as familiar with this kind of electro vibe. Some of them are like, ‘what is all this?’” It’s a nice segue to my next question, asking Collier how she’s been treated in the electronic world as a woman. So far, Grimes has been the most vocal female artist in the electronic genre to complain about the sexist treatment she’s faced. “It definitely happens when [you’re a woman and] you’re a producer. When you’re performing, they probably think someone else produced it, or whatever. My first EP, I remember playing it to someone. ‘Oh, who produced it?’ Uh, me? He just went on, thinking that I was the featured artist on the record. I was like, what the hell?”

Rachel K Collier Words You Never Heard EP cover

“I’ve had a few things [like that] happen. With my first self-release, I did it on Love & Other, a really small label. [That EP, ‘Words You Never Heard’, got a review of 8/10 on Mixmag. Not bad at all straight out of the gate – Ed.] That was really cool, a nice starter. I look back at that stuff and go, gosh, that’s really basic. Then my first-ever self release on AWAL, I got a comment, ‘great track! Whoever produced this for Rachel should do a whole album with her.’ I said to Ben, email them now, tell them I bloody produced it! Get that message through. Some people just don’t connect girl and a bass line. Girl and drums. Girl and computer. There’s a girl called Nightwave, she’s a female DJ, she did a Boiler Room and people totally slated her [read more about that incident here]. She’s now set up this whole thing [with other UK female electronic producers] called Producergirls. She does her lecture with quotes like ‘Who did she do to get there?’ and ‘Oh, she must have a ghost producer’, all this crap boys say.

“It [being a woman] works in my favour, in a way. Red Bull has their #NormalNotNovelty [music workshop], I’ve done some stuff with those guys as well. So I’m proud I’m a girl and doing it. Screw you guys. It’s funny, I’ve helped many guys with their Ableton sets. I’ll tell them we’ll FaceTime later. I love teaching it as well. Every single person I help is a guy. It’s really cool, because they’re like, ‘Rachel really knows her stuff about Ableton, let me call her.’ I might actually apply to be a certified trainer now. I might as well just do it. I’m already helping people.”

Reaching out in such a way seems entirely natural for Collier, although her initial foray into YouTube “started off slow. But people are really into it now. My single’s out today. I filmed a little talk-through inside the screen and put that on YouTube last night. ‘Here’s the project using Ableton Live 10. It looks beautiful. Here’s the bass, here’s drums, here’s the keys. Here’s the riff I did.’ I want to be transparent as well. I want to be honest. I couldn’t be anything else. Some other people are like, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t tell anyone my secrets. That’s just not my character. I’m better being myself.”

She’s very excited for the work coming up for the rest of the year. “I’m going to be producing my album now, and then I’ll be making an Ableton video for my single ‘Darkshade’ that was released today.” Although Collier is based in Wales, she’s very cognisant of staying in the public consciousness in territories beyond where she’s from. “We’ve learnt we need to keep building our presence here in the States.“ Sounds like us Americans might be seeing much more of Rachel K Collier in the coming months. Fingers crossed! Massive thanks, Rachel, for taking the time for this interview.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Rachel K Collier (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 10th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

By the time I manage to pin down Rachel K Collier at SXSW 2018, she’s already had a busy week. It’s Friday afternoon, we’re sat with drinks in the swanky bar at the Omni Hotel, and the electronic phenom from Swansea is so comfortable being in Austin, slang that’s only used by seasoned veterans of the festival is already rolling off her tongue. Positivity is exuding out of every pore of this up-and-coming Welsh artist. “I’m going to be bringing out my album in September. We wanted to release two singles [ahead of that] and I thought, what perfect timing! There will be loads going on at South By, I might as well release a single today [‘Darkshade’]. My Instagram followers have gone up since I arrived, [up by] about 130?” She flashes a grin, even though her time in Austin has been totally chockablock. “Loads of little things with the press, with radio, BBC Wales did an interview with me last night. It’s all timing together quite nicely.”

Collier began her time in Austin at Hotel Vegas, a venue with big names all week but a bit out of the way, east of the city centre. By her account, her maiden voyage to Austin clearly began on a high note. “It was like the crowd was on fire. They were so energetic! I did one filter and they were [all] like, ‘whooooo!’” She raises her arms up for added effect. “And at the end, I had an encore. You know, at South By, you have 40 minutes, that’s it, isn’t it? But because I was last, it was crazy.” She’d already been through all her songs and asked the audience what to do. “Play ‘Paper Tiger’ again!”, they shouted. “I got all the audience singing, and I looped them [in]. It was an amazing show.”

She appears both surprised and chuffed by the local reception. “Monday night, it seemed to be all Austin and American guys [in the audience]. It was totally rammed…that’s actual exposure, then, isn’t it? You really are showcasing to new people. Monday was cool because there were fans there who follow me on YouTube. Monday night, they were dancing like mad, they were loving it. Tuesday night [the BBC Introducing / PRS Foundation-supported showcase at Latitude 30], they were more of an industry crowd.” Collier already has her sights set on returning to SXSW. “Next year, I want to play to people who have never heard of me. I met this guy who said to me, ‘oh, best South By find this year!’, so it’s like yay! He’s discovered me! The response has been amazing.”

When you’re far from home, it can be astonishingly validating to get approval from crowds you’ve never encountered before. “It’s funny, Mary, I feel like I’m in the right place. I feel like I should be here, it’s important for my career. Also, because I’m Welsh, it is great, because the press back in Wales is like, pow pow pow! Rachel K Collier! They’re pushing it constantly in Wales. There’s only six Welsh artists here, which really helps, to be in the minority. Being female, doing electronic music, again, it’s different. But I’ve been really lucky, Ableton is supporting me, and PRS Foundation, BBC Introducing, yeah, it’s been really cool!”

2017 proved to be a pivotal year for Collier, the live artist. “Last year was a really awesome year because I did my first UK tour. Last year was my transition from making the YouTube videos to the stage. It happened [all] very fast. I was doing my YouTube video, and then I was doing my first college performance and I was opening different Projects, different songs. Then I had another show and thought, okay, I need to do three songs, and they need to be in the same project.” Soon enough, she found herself needing to take her music up a major notch. “By July, I was playing in the Czech Republic at Beats for Love Festival. I had to do an hour set. So it was like, right, okay, now I need to have songs. It took a year to take the live show and refine it, refine it, refine it, refine it.

“In December, we played a sold-out show at London Koko. It was an amazing way to finish the year, to go from that little college show, to all these little workshops, to bigger shows, to the UK tour. I thought, oh god. I hope it’s going to continue into next year, and then you get the email from South By. Ben [her manager] called me and said, “You’re not going to believe this. We’re going to South by Southwest!”

With a fresh perspective of how her music has been received on this side of the pond, she says almost with a tear, “I felt quite emotional this week. The response from the crowd on Monday! There were some guys from Monday night, they were saying, [changes to American Texan accent] ‘we follow you on YouTube and saw you were coming to Austin, like no frickin’ way!’ One of them, Alex, he was so cool. He posted a pic [from the show] with the caption, ‘Rachel, you crushed your first American show!’ …they could come to the first show because it was an unofficial showcase. When we were planning for SXSW, of course we were interested in all the official showcases, but I was like no, man. The unofficial ones are cool because they don’t require the industry / wristband thing. It’s been really cool, I hope it all continues.”

Unexpectedly, Collier has become an ambassador for music software giant Ableton. But perhaps maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise? She’s a self-described “hardcore fan” and “diehard enthusiast” of their products, so I ask her just what she loves about it so much. It sounds like she could talk for days on how much it makes her work easier, though she went through a period of not using it at all. “I studied Music Tech at uni, it was all about making music with technology, that was the whole kind of vibe. We’d have to do these recitals that were innovative and new and no one had seen before. I thought, I want to do something on stage. I don’t want a looping pedal, I want to loop stuff, I want to make up some weird stuff. My teacher introduced me to Ableton and said, ‘try this’. I was working in session view for performance. I thought, this is cool.” Turns out, unbeknownst to me, Collier had been in a different part of the songwriting world for a while. “Fast forward a few years, moved to London, I was doing a lot of top-lining kind of work, recording in Logic and ProTools. I thought, you know what, I hate this, I want to produce again. I met Ben and he asked, ‘do you produce in Ableton?’ ‘I haven’t used that in ages, I love Ableton! But I thought that was only for live stuff.’ ‘No, you can produce in it.’

“For the first time ever, I saw Arrangement [View], I have no idea how I missed it. So then I started producing in Ableton. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like I connected with it. This is how I can express myself. I’m just a super fan! I absolutely love it. I started producing again, I was really happy. I released the first EP I made myself, I produced it myself. But then I was like, ooh, I want to perform it, though! That’s what I love about Ableton. You can take this production that you’ve done – I’ve obviously started everything in Session View – go to Arrange View, and then you can simply go back into Session View and construct this whole Project.”

Collier’s next step was to share her music with the public, and in a way so many bedroom producers do these days. “I started my YouTube channel, still loving Ableton. Then I decided I wanted to meet them. I need to meet someone there, tell them how much I love it and thank them, show them my work. I went to ADE [Amsterdam Dance Event] 2016 – I played this year – and I went to ADE purely to meet someone from Ableton. I went to the Ableton stand and I met this amazing guy named Jan from Dutch Ableton. By then I’d had 400,000 views of ‘Nothing is Forever’ on my YouTube channel [There are now over 1.4 million views of this video of Collier’s – Ed.]. He said, ‘cool, email me.’ He replied straight away, that really doesn’t happen in our industry. He introduced me to the UK team, Mike, Simon, and Danny, and they replied, “hi Rachel, come in for a chat.” They said, will you do a convention with us, can you do a performance? And that was my first-ever outside of YouTube performance with my APC [Akai Professional Ableton Performance Controller] and my [Ableton] Push.”

Since taking that chance to find Ableton staff at ADE 2016, she’s “really bonded” with not only with the London Ableton team but with the team at Ableton HQ in Berlin, who asked her to front their Ableton Live 10 global campaign. “It was so cool, because it was the first time ever [for an Ableton release], as a female producer, ‘would you come over and produce, and make a track for our Live 10 release?’ It’s not, ‘go and do the top-line because you’re a girl and you sing’, it’s ‘go and produce the music’. I was like, hell yeah! I flew out to Berlin a couple of times and got to go to Ableton HQ, use Ableton 10, use the new plugins, Pedal, the Echo, the Groups Within Groups. I was meant to be second on the video because my BPM was around 130, and the structure of the video was such that they were going to showcase this tempo, and then this tempo, and then this tempo.

“Because of the way I write and I sing, and they have this new Metronome feature, they said, oh wait, we’re going to put you on first. It was such an amazing experience. They are just so cool and so supportive.” It’s evident from the smile on her face to see that Ableton is really a part of Rachel K Collier, the artist, and she’s wholly appreciative of their efforts. “When you on stage and you’ve got a slammin’ sound system, everything is running from the laptop into the sound card, everything goes into Ableton, through my sound card, and back out again. Vocals, all the synths, all the clips, all the samples, all the looping. So it’s mega that I can actually perform like that. And it’s all because they made that.” Ableton also introduced her to Indian online music magazine and community forum Wild City, who just began an initiative last November to be more inclusive in the music industry towards women. Part of the initiative is bringing Collier out to Bangalore, India, with support from the British Council, for a 2-day workshop where she will teach her most favourite subject. “Basically I’m going to hang out with young Indian girls and teach them Ableton. Dream! I spend most of my life looking at Ableton. It’s pretty bad. Someone once said to me, you talk about Ableton all the time. Well, it’s kind of my life, to be honest!”

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Rachel K Collier, which will post here tomorrow.

 

In the Post #160: Ben Howard announces his new album ‘Noonday Dream’ with first single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’

 
By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

If you follow Ben Howard‘s social media, you might have noticed a quiet but mysterious breeze blowing around his internet persona recently. That soft breeze became a full blown wind last Wednesday, as Howard announced the impending release of ‘Noonday Dream’, his first solo album in 4 years, which follows his breathtaking 2014 album ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Howard hasn’t been entirely idle in the interim, releasing an EP and a full long player last year with his side project A Blaze of Feather.

Howard has previewed ‘Noonday Dream’ with lead single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’, which received its first radio play last Wednesday on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. In the accompanying interview with the DJ legend, Howard himself described the song as “a bit of a patchwork quilt”. He went on to briefly explain the song’s birth and evolution over time: “It went through a lot of different lives, this one, and I think you can sort of tell.”

Indeed, the song’s soundscape moves through palpable stages over the course of its 7-minute duration, starting with an a harsh, synthetic intro and progressing to a lighter acoustic backdrop under Howard’s softly intoned vocals. The entire recording has a broad, airy quality, in contrast to some of the heavier tones he’s taken in the past, and distant voices in the background suggest a vast sense of open space. About halfway through the track, layers of percussion and keyboards add light and color to the sonic palette, and the texture thickens dramatically with the introduction of a dark guitar melody near the end.

Produced by Howard himself and recorded at various locations in England and France, ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ sounds like not only a continuation of what Howard did on ‘I Forget Where We Were’, but an even further extension of that atmospheric neo-folk sound. Lyrically the new song is as evocative and elusive as Howard has ever been in his writing, but musically he extends well beyond his acoustic folk rock beginnings. Take a listen to ‘A Boat to an Island off the Wall’ via Spotify at the bottom of this post.

8.5/10

‘Noonday Dream’ is due out on the 1st of June on Island Records. Just after the album’s release, Howard will play the below list of live dates in the UK. Listen back to Ben Howard’s interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1 and the song’s first play through here; the stream will be available for the next 24 days. find TGTF’s past coverage of Ben Howard back through here.

Wednesday 13th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 14th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 28th June 2018 – Edinburgh Playhouse
Friday 29th June 2018 – Manchester Albert Hall
Saturday 30th June 2018 – Cornwall Eden Sessions

 

Preview: The Great Escape 2018

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd April 2018 at 10:00 am
 

We’re into April now, which means the first wave of the big three May city festivals are just weeks away. I have already previewed the 2018 editions of Live at Leeds and Liverpool Sound City, the latter seeing a move away from docklands this year. The final of the trifecta, The Great Escape in Brighton, will be making changes of their own.

The festival will be premiering ‘The Beach’, promised to be a 2,000 capacity festival site of its own separate from the rest of the festival. It’s expected to house an 30 individual venues. This could be amazing or could go horribly wrong. Sound bleed from the Main Stage at the docklands version of Sound City adversely affected smaller acts on the smaller stage, so we’ll have to see how this first year of the added ‘Beach’ goes. As the format of The Great Escape really hasn’t changed since I first started going in 2012, it was definitely time for them to try something new and I’m going to be positive that the South’s emerging music festival has already sussed out the potential issues.

So what countries outside the UK will have significant presence at The Great Escape? As usual, America, Australia (bringing their famous Aussie BBQ) and Canada will have plenty of artists in Brighton. But it’s also worth noting France, Ireland (yes, both sides of the border) and The Netherlands are sending a critical mass of artists. So there, Brexit!

As in past years, there will be a rap-focussed Spotlight Show at Brighton Dome on the 19th of May. This year’s edition will star Mist and MoStack, Steel Banglez, Fredo and Ebenezer. Access to this special show Saturday night can be through the purchase of a standalone ticket or a successful application for the lucky draw following purchase of a 3-day weekend or 1-day festival ticket.

Tickets to the Great Escape 2018 are still available in 3-day saver, team (buy 6 for the price of 5) and single day formats. Young adults have the option to buy a 3-day ticket or a Saturday day ticket. For more information on tickets and to buy your own, go here.

 

Album Review: Lissie – Castles

 
By on Tuesday, 27th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Lissie Castles coverWhen we at TGTF last spoke to American singer/songwriter Lissie in a post-show interview at SXSW 2016, she had just moved from California back to her midwestern home of Iowa to find her roots after years living on the West Coast. She was also touring her album ‘My Wild West’, which was written and recorded as a kind of farewell to California. Now firmly established in the Midwest, Lissie has released a new record titled ‘Castles’, which is as much an exploration in musical sounds as it is an examination of the life she’s created for herself.

Ironically, despite Lissie’s decampment to farm country, the songs on ‘Castles’ are less organic sounding than you might expect, especially from a woman whose last album was firmly grounded in folk rock. Working with a host of collaborators including electronic artist Nick Tesoriero, Lissie has fashioned a dreamy, ethereal soundscape of synths, drum machines, and distant backing vocals. “When I wrote on a guitar I felt limited”, she says. “It was so much more spontaneous and natural to sit down with someone who would give me a beat and a chord progression on a synthesizer. I started having all these new ideas.” Lissie’s sonic experimentation places ‘Castles’ into a pop/r&b scenario, and while she doesn’t venture into uncharted pop territory, it’s a new sound for her, and the result is, predictably, a bit patchy.

Opening track ‘World Away’ sets the sonic tone with a hazy dream pop sound apropos to an album called ‘Castles.’ But Lissie’s raw singing voice, which was powerful enough to cut through hefty guitars and drums on ‘My Wild West’, doesn’t sit as comfortably in the new synthesised backdrop. Her natural raspiness occasionally comes across as abrasive, and the thinner underlying arrangements expose the squareness in her lyrics and vocal delivery.

The album gains momentum early with a strong trilogy of songs. Lissie’s voice is strong in title track ‘Castles’, whose fairy tale analogy and catchy refrain are immediately engaging. Piano ballad ‘Blood & Muscle’ (https://www.theregoesthefear.com/2017/12/video-of-the-moment-2750-lissie.php) has a smoky quality that suits the natural timbre of her singing, especially as the chorus builds to its dynamic climax. ‘Best Days’ has a  country rock feel which might have worked even better had Lissie more fully committed to it, under lyrics about wanting both “a pickup truck” and “a diamond ring”.

From there, the album begins to lose traction. ‘Feel Good’ and ‘Boyfriend’ carry on the country rock flavour, but the lyrics in both are trite and slightly preachy, as Lissie sings in the latter, “I don’t want a lover, I want a man / coming from the heart now, living in my heartland”. In an attempt to branch out from country rock, Lissie makes two overtures to r&b on ‘Castles’, neither of which is particularly successful. The vocal delivery in ‘Crazy Girl’ feels contrived when she sings “I’ve been talkin’ shit all of the time, other girls foolin’ around”, and the effect is amplified later in the tracklisting in ‘Love Blows’, where the understated synth backing exaggerates the stilted, uncomfortable lyrical rhythm.

Near the end of the album in ‘Peace’, Lissie softens her tone and weaves her voice delicately between the bass groove and the exotic plucked string instrumentation. Here she finds a sweet spot, and though the moment doesn’t last long, it’s an interesting suggestion of where she could potentially take this new soundscape. Final track ‘Meet Me in the Mystery’ is another strong piano ballad whose minor key harmonies reflect the elusiveness in its title, while electric guitar, synths, and percussion create a dramatic tonal tapestry behind Lissie’s naturally bewitching vocals.

‘Castles’ is without a doubt a brave departure from Lissie’s former folk rock sound. She gathered a host of contributors, including collaborators from ‘My Wild West’ and producers AG and Liam Howe to help her navigate the new soundscape but in the end, the album may have suffered from “too many chefs in the kitchen” without enough definitive direction or intent.

6.5/10

Lissie’s new album ‘Castles’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl. She will play a run of four live dates in the UK in April; you can find all the details here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Lissie is collected back here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

 
By on Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

CMA album coverAlt-country singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews appeared last week in Austin for SXSW 2018, to preview her forthcoming seventh album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. Andrews garnered attention in the UK last year with the re-release of ‘Honest Life’, her self-produced sixth record, which drew comparisons to Laurel Canyon-style folk artists like Joni Mitchell. But where ‘Honest Life’ had more of a folk flavour, ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ finds itself firmly in the country category, albeit a more old-school, traditional country sound than you might hear on mainstream radio on either side of the pond.

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits), ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ captures both a well-worn country sensibility and a fresh, modern take on the traditional style, with subtle elements of rock and blues sweetening the mix. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Andrews’ 10 years of life on the road as a touring musician, and it deals with themes that feel at once timeless and conspicuously current. She says:

The people that I’ve met on the road these past few years got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family,” Andrews says. “It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues. People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America—and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people—myself included at some point in my life—are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.

Gospel-tinged title track ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ addresses that idea in straighforward fashion, but with an underlying message of optimism. Lyrics like “fortune might buy diamonds, all shiny and new / but it can’t buy you happiness or love, that is true” might seem trite when written on a blank page, but they ultimately ring sincere when couched in Andrews’ simple melodies and her gently yodeling folk-country vocal style. The dynamic growth of her singing voice in the song’s powerful chorus showcases both strength and subtle emotion.

The album’s fundamental optimism is reprised later in the tracklisting with another gospel-laced track ‘Kindness of Strangers’, which celebrates small favours in the face of unrelenting adversity. “People come and people go,” Andrews observes here in a jaded tone, ” . . . you need the kindness to survive”. Standout track ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ is one of the album’s more spirited moments. Its uptempo country rock underscores a tough tale of hard times on tour with a sense of perseverance and humour. But Andrews also takes the opportunity to muse on the situation’s larger implications: “what happened to the middle class / mom and pop, five and dime? / soon they’ll be knocking it all down / to build that high-rise.”

A handful of well-worn love songs including ‘Rough Around the Edges’ and ‘Took You Up’ pull at the heartstrings with yearning melodies and all-too-familiar lyrical details that feel comfortable even when they aren’t pretty. She easily juxtaposes lofty imagery like “desert sunsets and movie scenes” with the more mundane “frozen dinners when money’s tight / making love on a laundry pile”, finding equal emotional value in both. Andrews’ voice exudes a palpable sense of warmth and welcome in humble ballad ‘This House’, singing “for every rose there’s a weed / but every weed is welcome / this house ain’t much of a house / but it’s a home.”

Near the end of the tracklisting, the dryly ironic tone of ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ displays a typically country-rock bravado and the emotional subtlety of trying to mask a pain you don’t want to admit to in the first place. “Mother says we love who we think we deserve,” Andrews remarks here in a wry tone, “but I’ve hurt worse.” The album closes with ‘Long Road Back to You’, which underscores the pervasive longing and quiet hope in this collection of songs. The guitar riff between its verses is achingly desperate, while Andrews’ vocal in the yearning refrain is a barely-restrained cry of loneliness. But the return of gospel harmonies in the piano and backing vocals manages to leave behind a prevailing sense of promise.

Courtney Marie Andrews has made her career in music the hard-working, old-fashioned way, and her commitment to the traditional country aesthetic pays off in spades on ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. The album’s beauty lies in its simplicity, which highlights Andrews’ delicate balance of grit and grace. Her rough-around-the-edges vocal style infuses her lyrics with a sense of authenticity, and her dusty, sepia-toned soundscape conveys both steadfast resilience and hard-won hope.

9/10

‘May Your Kindness Remain’ is Courtney Marie Andrews’ seventh studio album and her second release for Mama Bird Recording Co. (America) / Loose Music (UK). The album is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 23rd of March. Stay tuned to TGTF for live coverage of Courtney Marie Andrews at SXSW 2018, to post in the coming days. Our past coverage, including Andrews’ answers to our SXSW 2018 themed Quickfire Questions, is back through here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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